Saddler vs Saddle Fitter
We often get asked about the differences and we hear 'surely a Qualified Saddler is a Qualified Saddle Fitter', the simple answer is No. Saddler's often Saddle Fit too but may not be a qualified fitter or the other way round... It is also important to understand that there is no legal requirement for a Saddler or Saddle Fitter to hold any Qualifications and many won't. The choice is left to the individual and is more about personal development. I have listed the pathways and differences below to help clarify.
Qualified Saddler - To be a qualified Saddler under the Society of Master Saddlers you have to complete 3 Skills Tests for each component of Saddlery. The three Categories are Bridlework, Saddles and Harness. Until all 3 skills tests for each are completed you are registered as a Trainee Saddler. There are two main forms of Training which fully train you. The first is the Cordwainers Diploma in Saddle, Bridle and Harness making - I have completed the diploma - the second is an Apprenticeship - these are now few and far between and hotly contested. The diploma is great and packs all your training and exams into two years vs an Apprenticeship which is generally 4 years. Once Qualified a Saddler you then have to complete 4 years minimum in the Trade alongside completing prize winning work to become a Master which you have to apply for.
During completion of either the diploma or apprenticeship you normally do all your skills tests, as I said above I have completed the Diploma including all my coursework for the Skills tests. I have also done all three Level 1's and level 2 Bridlework but unfortunately due to the pandemic I was not able to do my skills tests during my last year. I now have level 2 Harness and Saddle and the three level 3's. I am currently working through completing these but the all the training is completed it is simply the exams themselves. There is no formal requirement to be 'overseen' by a Qualified member but you do have to have a reference willing to state you are up to the standard expected as I completed the diploma and the examiner has seen my work so I am able to take the exams as soon as I can with Harness Level 2 next hopefully.
Qualified Saddle Fitter - our fitter Lex will be doing a more detailed post explaining her training in more depth soon! But similar to becoming a Saddler you have to train and then pass two exams. The first is the flocking exam which covers how to top up and reflock a saddle as well as lace it back together. The second is then the Saddle Fitting exam which can only be completed once you have completed and passed your flocking. It is important to note however that these exams are separate to those taken as a Saddler and just because someone is Qualified as a Saddler it does not mean they are 'Qualified' as a fitter. Many Saddlers do both and many have years of experience but they may not have completed the exam as this is a fairly new introduction. The bonus of doing the exam is that as with other industries technology and processes are changing all the time! It is important to highlight here that just because the exam may not have been completed (there are only a few exam days each year) it does not mean a saddle fitter is not trained or has to be 'overseen' this is decided by their Mentor. Whilst training is essential so is experience and the practical knowledge, some of the best in the industry haven't completed the exam and it does not make them any less competent.